The Tiger Is In The Library

Posted: September 25, 2011 in Blogging, Reading, Susan Sontag, Writing
Tags: ,

I am delighted to find that the marvellous James Maker has been shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize with his searingly honest and sparklingly funny memoir,  AutofellatioAnd I am equally pleased his achievement has been picked up by the press. None other than our favourite Lesbianic Literary Lush (I mean that in a good way) Julie Birchill gave Autofellatio a rave review in the Independent:

But I have to take issue with Julie’s parting comment:

‘Amazingly, this wonderful book – shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize – began life as a self-published e-book before finding a publisher; think Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard finally finding Mr DeMille on her doorstep and you’ve got it. But with better shoes.’

This is a very outdated idea. That ‘paper publishing’ is higher in status and economic clout than e-publishing, and that everyone who self-publishes online does so whilst waiting for that elusive ‘deal’. Just ask Amanda Hocking, she will put you straight.

Even Susan Sontag, that other Lesbianic Literary (maybe not Lush) Lady, acknowledged the demise of print publishing back in 1996, when she wrote a letter to J L Borges, who’d been dead for ten years:

‘books are now considered an endangered species. By books, I also mean the conditions of reading that make possible literature and its soul effects. Soon, we are told, we will call up on “bookscreens” any “text” on demand, and will be able to change its appearance, ask questions of it, “interact” with it. When books become “texts” that we “interact” with according to criteria of utility, the written word will have become simply another aspect of our advertising-driven televisual reality. This is the glorious future being created, and promised to us, as something more “democratic”. Of course, it means nothing less then the death of inwardness – and of the book.

This time around, there will be no need for a great conflagration. The barbarians don’t have to burn the books. The tiger is in the library.’–a-letter-to-borges-666700.html

The ‘tiger’ in the ‘library’ was a reference to Borge’s surreal poem which could also be read as a lament for the demise of ‘literature’:

I think of a tiger. The gloom here makes
The vast and busy Library seem lofty
And pushes the shelves back…

But here’s the thing. The only reason I came to read Autofellatio, on Kindle, was due to a review even more glowing than La Birchill’s, on Mark Simpson ‘s blog. And it was on that blog that I also read a review (which inspired me to buy a hard copy)  of  Where The Stress Falls, the book by Sontag, including that letter to Borges.

So my appreciation of the literary merits of James Maker, Susan Sontag and J L Borges, have all been enabled by internet and electronic media and publishing. There has barely been a book involved.

The Tiger Is In The Library.

We can either sit here crying over that fact, whilst the beast ransacks the shelves and destroys the archives, or we can learn to live with it.  And find a way to keep alive ‘the conditions of reading that make possible literature and its soul effects’  in the actual world that we actually live in.

We are the tigers. It’s up to us.

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